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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. OCAHO Reduces Penalties for Two Related Companies

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    In a calendar year with few decisions, Office of Chief Administration Hearing Officer (OCAHO) issued its last one in U.S. v. Integrity Concrete/American Concrete, 13 OCAHO no. 1307 (2017). In this decision, OCAHO substantially reduced the penalties assessed against Integrity Concrete, Inc. and American Concrete, Inc., which essentially acted as joint employers. This decision only involves the amount of the penalties as Respondents agreed to the liability.

    Factual Scenario for Integity

    Integrity, located in San Diego, CA, was served with a Notice of Inspection (NOI) in January 2015. Thereafter, ICE served Notice of Suspect Documents on Integrity listing eight employees whose I-9 forms could not be verified as authorized to work. Integrity responded none of the eight employees were employed anymore.

    About seven months later, Integrity was served with a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF), which charged the company with the failing to timely prepare I-9 forms for five employees, failing to ensure that three employees properly completed Section 1 of their I-9 forms, and failing to properly complete Section 2 or 3 of the I-9 forms for 16 employees. ICE assessed a fine of $24,684 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 and 5% enhancement for lack of good faith and seriousness of the violations.

    In Integrity’s answer, it challenged the penalties asserting it was a small employer, numbering 28 employees, which should account for a 5% statutory reduction in the penalty, bad faith should not have been found, and the penalties assessed would place an undue hardship on the company.

    Factual Scenario for American

    American, also located in San Diego, CA, was served with a Notice of Inspection (NOI) in January 2015. Later, American was also served with a Notice of Suspect Documents listing four employees whose I-9 forms could not be verified as authorized to work. American responded none of these employees were employed at its company. ICE assessed a fine of $24,684 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 and a 5% enhancement for lack of good faith and seriousness of the violations.

    ICE also served a separate NIF on American alleging it failed to timely prepare I-9 forms for 10 employees. ICE proposed a fine of $5,390 based on a baseline penalty of $440 plus 5% enhancements for lack of good faith, seriousness of the violations, and employment of three undocumented workers. American filed an Answer asserting it should have received 5% mitigation for each of these factors: small size of its workforce (48 employees), good faith, and the non-statutory factor of leniency toward small businesses.

    OCAHO’s Decision

    The first factor discussed was whether Integrity and American should receive 5% mitigation for being a small employer. ICE asserted the fact that both employers had small workforces, 48 and 28 employees, was inappropriate for determining whether they were small employers. ICE argued it should focus on gross sales and gross assets. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for OCAHO disagreed and applied appropriate caselaw to find both to meet the definition of small employers; thus, they were entitled to the statutory 5% mitigating factor.

    Next the ALJ focused on whether Integrity and/or American should be assessed 5% enhancement for bad faith or 5% mitigation for good faith. ICE asserted three reasons for a finding of bad faith: Integrity backdated one I-9 form; both companies did not complete I-9 forms for some employees until after the NOIs issued; and their failure to present evidence that they utilize E-Verify.

    Although backdating alone is insufficient to support a finding of bad faith, the ALJ found several factors supported a finding of bad faith. However, the ALJ noted the use or non-use of E-Verify is not a factor which should be reviewed in determining good faith/bad faith.

    Concerning the employment of undocumented workers as an enhancement factor, the ALJ stated ICE failed to provide any evidence of their undocumented status. Rather, their enhancement was based on inclusion in the Notice of Suspect Documents. As the ALJ correctly pointed out, an allegation of undocumented status, which is essentially what placement on a Notice of Suspect Documents means, is not sufficient to prove undocumented status. Thus, no enhancement was added for this factor.

    Another issue involving Integrity was whether it established an inability to pay/hardship. The ALJ did not find such, despite a loss of over $600,000, because Integrity paid approximately $500,000 in salaries and benefits – much of which was paid to its shareholders.

    In determining the amount of the penalties, the ALJ was disturbed by the fact that $935 was the baseline penalty for Integrity while only $440 was the baseline penalty for American. Although the ALJ correctly noted the difference in the percentage of errors on the I-9 forms was the basis of the different baseline penalty, he found the companies should be assessed at approximately the same dollar amount and compliance rate alone is insufficient to justify wide variation. Thus, the ALJ assessed $400 baseline penalty for substantive paperwork violations and $500 for failure to prepare I-9 forms.

    Based on this analysis, Integrity was found to have committed five violations for failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms. Each of these violations will be assessed at $500, with the enhancement factor for seriousness of the violations and mitigation factor for the small size of the business cancelling each other. Accordingly, Integrity is liable for $2,525 under Count I. Under Counts II and III, Integrity was liable for substantive violations for failure to properly complete three I-9 forms and 19 substantive paperwork violations, all assessed at $400 each. Therefore, Integrity is liable for $11,325.

    American was found liable for 11 substantive violations for failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms. Each of these violations will be assessed at $500, which includes the $500 base fine, with the enhancement factor for seriousness of the violations and mitigation factor for the small size of the business cancelling each other. Accordingly, American is assessed a total civil penalty of $5,500.

    Conclusion

    OCAHO may have slowed down on adjudication of cases but they will be back to speed once they get their allotment of ALJs. In the meantime, now is a great time to conduct an internal I-9 audit under the supervision of an experienced immigration compliance attorney. To find out more about internal I-9 audits as well as other employer immigration compliance issues, I invite you to read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book that I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  2. 9th Court of Appeals Agrees with OCAHO Decision

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In a rare Court of Appeals decision involving Form I-9 penalties, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (covers California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Hawaii) substantially agreed with a decision by the Office of Chief Administration Hearing Officer (OCAHO). See DLS Precision Fab LLC v. ICE (9th Cir. August 2017).

    In the underlying decision, OCAHO found DLS to have committed 504 violations related to their I-9 forms and assessed a penalty of $305,050. Of the 504 violations, 489 concerned substantive or paperwork violations while 15 concerned employees who DLS knowingly employed without work authorization. DLS was able to reduce the penalties to $305,050 from $495,250, which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought.

    On appeal to the 9th Circuit, DLS prevailed on one issue, thereby reducing the violations from 504 to 503. In the appeal, DLS argued its paperwork or substantive violations should be viewed under the “good faith defense” because it “made a good faith effort to comply with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by hiring a HR director, who exhibited bad faith by neglecting his duty to keep DLS compliant.” The Ninth Circuit was not persuaded by DLS’s argument because the HR director was acting as DLS’s agent; thus, “his failure to perform his responsibility may properly be imputed to DLS.” Moreover, DLS’s argument essentially requests the Ninth Circuit to rewrite the statute, something that is not with the court’s authority.

    The Court also affirmed OCAHO’s rejection of DLS’s statute of limitations defense. Concerning the numerous paperwork violations, the Court found such a violation occurs “until it is corrected, or until the employer no longer is required to retain the I-9 form.” There is a five-year statute of limitations, which applies the above test. In applying this test, the Ninth Circuit found one violation was beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

    Finally, DLS asserted OCAHO failed to take into account its inability to pay defense. The Court agreed with DLS but pointed out OCAHO was not required to consider an inability to pay; thus, there was no error.

    This court’s decision reinforces my mantra in previous articles – Form I-9 errors can have costly consequences; thus, all employers should conduct internal I-9 audits under the supervision of counsel who is well-versed in immigration compliance. For more information on how companies can protect themselves, you may want to read by new book, The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, available from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/I-9-E-Verify-...dp/0997083379/.
  3. I-9 Violations Cannot be Alleged by a Complainant in Discrimination Complaint

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In Sapre v. Dave S.B. Hoon – John Wayne Cancer Institute, 12 OCAHO no. 1305 (August 2017), an employee alleged the Respondent discriminated against her because of her citizenship status and national origin, retaliated against her, and committed document abuse, thereby violating the antidiscrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1324b (2012). In a procedural decision, OCAHO denied a Motion for Default Judgment.

    In so ruling, OCAHO denied Complainant’s request that the ALJ inquire into the employer’s alleged Form I-9 errors. OCAHO reiterated that the employer sanctions statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1324a, and accompanying regulations, “do not authorize a private individual to file a complaint directly with an Administrative Law Judge alleging violations in completion of the Form I-9, which is unlawful pursuant to § 1324a(a)(1)(B)” (quoting de Araujo v. Joan Smith Enters., Inc., 10 OCAHO no. 1187 (2013).
  4. OCAHO Finds State Employer Had Sovereign Immunity

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    Attachment 1213

    In Ugochi v. North Dakota Dept. of Human Service, 12 OCAHO no. 1304 (July 2017), the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) dismissed Chiaha Ugochi’s complaint that she was discriminated because of her citizenship status and national origin, the employer retaliated against her and committed document abuse.

    The case began with Ugochi filing a charge against her employer, North Dakota State Hospital, alleging it discriminated against her. Immigrant and Employer Rights Section of the Department of Justice dismissed her case due to insufficient evidence of discrimination or retaliation and referred the national origin claim to the EEOC, who has jurisdiction on national origin claims involving employers with more than 14 employees.

    Thereafter, Ugochi filed a complaint with OCAHO alleging she was fired because her employer asked for excessive documentation in the I-9 and E-Verify process. The employer responded that it was entitled to sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for her termination - she failed a background check.

    In analyzing the employer’s defenses, OCAHO noted the employer in question is the North Dakota State Hospital, a state agency. Due to the employer being a state agency, one must review the 11th Amendment which states, “The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court “has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” There are two exceptions to a state’s immunity from suit under the 11th Amendment. The first exception is where Congress has statutorily abrogated such immunity by “clear and unmistakable language.” The second exception exists when the state has expressly waived its immunity.

    OCAHO found sovereign immunity applied to the North Dakota State Hospital, a state agency; thus, it enjoyed immunity from these proceedings pursuant to the 11th Amendment. Neither exception to immunity is present in the instant matter. Accordingly, because Ugochi’s complaint is barred, the Motion to Dismiss was granted.

    On a personal note, last week the immigration bar lost a true advocate for immigrants, Yvette Sebelist, my law partner. May she rest in peace.

    Updated 08-22-2017 at 12:11 PM by BBuchanan

  5. OCAHO Finds State Employer Had Sovereign Immunity

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In Ugochi v. North Dakota Dept. of Human Service, 12 OCAHO no. 1304 (July 2017), the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) dismissed Chiaha Ugochi’s complaint that she was discriminated because of her citizenship status and national origin, the employer retaliated against her and committed document abuse.

    The case began with Ugochi filing a charge against her employer, North Dakota State Hospital, alleging it discriminated against her. Immigrant and Employer Rights Section of the Department of Justice dismissed her case due to insufficient evidence of discrimination or retaliation and referred the national origin claim to the EEOC, who has jurisdiction on national origin claims involving employers with more than 14 employees.

    Thereafter, Ugochi filed a complaint with OCAHO alleging she was fired because her employer asked for excessive documentation in the I-9 and E-Verify process. The employer responded that it was entitled to sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for her termination - she failed a background check.

    In analyzing the employer’s defenses, OCAHO noted the employer in question is the North Dakota State Hospital, a state agency. Due to the employer being a state agency, one must review the 11th Amendment which states, “The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court “has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” There are two exceptions to a state’s immunity from suit under the 11th Amendment. The first exception is where Congress has statutorily abrogated such immunity by “clear and unmistakable language.” The second exception exists when the state has expressly waived its immunity.

    OCAHO found sovereign immunity applied to the North Dakota State Hospital, a state agency; thus, it enjoyed immunity from these proceedings pursuant to the 11th Amendment. Neither exception to immunity is present in the instant matter. Accordingly, because Ugochi’s complaint is barred, the Motion to Dismiss was granted.

    On a personal note, last week the immigration bar lost a true advocate for immigrants, Yvette Sebelist, my law partner. May she rest in peace.
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